To Change Up Your Nutrition, Start With a Healthy Breakfast

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Small changes can lead to big results. If you want to start working on your nutrition, M2 Performance Nutrition's Mike Molloy recommends starting with your morning.

There are two types of people in the world: those who say breakfast is chaos, and liars. No matter your schedule, number of dependents or lifestyle, whoever decided we had to prepare something healthy and sustaining while half-conscious is, frankly, deserving of being trialled in The Hague.

Breakfast has, anecdotally, always been my personal antagonist. All the classics are either now seen as indulgent (buttered toast) or the product of misunderstood nutrition and historical scamming (here’s looking at you cereal.) So where does one go when tradition has been ripped up? As a morning gym-goer, I also have the added complications of having to prep the night before something I can eat at my desk, or else become an intermittent faster. For others the complication is something much less vain: children to get ready, shift work to arrive to, or simply not being good at mornings. Breakfast may be ‘the most important meal of the day’, but how can anyone be good at it when the odds are stacked against us?

But as a wise man once told me: if you want to get on top of your nutrition, start with breakfast. That wise man is the nutritionist Mike Molloy, who has worked with top athletes and many others to up their performance. Luckily I don’t need to paraphrase him any further, because I spoke to him about not just the importance of a good breakfast, but how to achieve it in the short-term.

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What are some common misconceptions about what purpose a breakfast should serve?

  1. Most of us are running out the door in the morning and cooking is not realistic, but that doesn’t mean an extra-large muffin is the only option.
  2. Breakfast does not have to be 'breakfast' food, if you don’t like oatmeal you don’t need to eat it- you can eat things that aren’t necessarily deemed 'breakfast' food.
  3. Intentionally having a smaller breakfast or skipping it to 'save' food for later can potentially backfire on you & lead to eating more calories in total.

Is it better to eat something, generally, in the morning, or skip it for an intermittent fasting approach?

Of course, as with anything in nutrition, the answer is: 'it depends'. It depends on what goals someone has, their lifestyle/career, daily schedule and demands, etc. Generally, it is advised for women to avoid an intermittent fasting approach for hormone regulation. Everyone is different and our bodies respond in a variety of ways, so keep in mind that what might work for someone will not be a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Intermittent fasting is a common trend now used as a weight-loss strategy, and it can work because it reduces the total amount of calories that one is consuming, aka creating a caloric deficit. If you cannot stomach food in the morning, don’t force-feed yourself. If you are ravenous in the morning, then please do not intentionally starve yourself. Recognise that our actions can create an effect beyond the current moment and can impact the rest of your day.

How should a breakfast work around someone exercising in the morning, versus someone who isn’t?

For an early bird, a good idea would be to opt for a quick 'snack' before the workout and then have a meal after the workout and before the rest of their day. We are usually on a crunch for time in the morning already, and having a full-time span of 2~ hours to digest a full meal before your workout is probably not likely. Besides, it would not be fun to have a full stomach while trying to do burpees.

For all health and fitness goals, getting up extra early just to have a full meal before a workout is not worth the reduced sleep it would cause.

Some ideas of a pre-workout snack could be a piece of toast with jam or honey, rice cake and banana, or pouches like applesauce or Fuel for Fire.

If people are finding it hard to sit down and prepare breakfast, what are some good things to look for in breakfast out?

It sounds silly, but if you are grabbing breakfast on the go, think to yourself 'what here looks like something I might have at home.' Scones or breakfast pastries are most likely not in your pantry or fridge too often, but I bet eggs are!

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How should people be feeling if they’re optimizing their holiday breakfast, whether afterwards or over the days following?

Ideally, you would experience more sustained energy throughout the day, fewer mood swings, reduced cravings, and overall feel better physically and mentally. People should also judge their hunger levels and potential cravings throughout the day and compare these metrics to how you felt before you changed your breakfast routine.

Is it better to aim for a consistent healthy breakfast option, or mix it up?

Whatever works best for someone in the long-term is a 'better' option. If someone finds that they don’t get bored of eating the same thing every morning, and or they like having the consistent structure- then great, keep rocking on! If someone likes to have variety then they could still have some structure by having a staple 2-3 meals that they can cycle through during a week. This strategy can help to plan for grocery shopping if needed.

Are there any good ideas for optimizing breakfast if you’re also preparing breakfasts for family/children?

Plan ahead, and find options that you and your kids like. Do not feel obligated to have exactly what your kids are having, but maybe realise that some options can be similar or modified to satisfy you and the rest of your family.

If prepping, consider making egg/egg white bites in the same, or separate, pan with protein muffin bites for the kiddos- cook them both at once in the stove and store for the week. Use the toaster at the same time to heat up your English muffin while you are heating up your kids’ waffle. Are there common interests that you can incorporate and build same or separate meals out of (like cut-up fruit, turkey sausage or bacon, eggs, toast..)?

What are some good ways to get people to commit to the ritual of breakfast if it’s something they tend to skip? 

Start small! Do something the night before that can help set you up for success. By even taking one step towards the desired action, you will be stepping yourself up for success by creating positive momentum and reducing the time/barriers that your current morning routine may bring… What is one thing that you can do to create positive momentum the night before? Could you put oats in a jar? Use protein powder and protein shake and put it in the fridge? Get your coffee maker ready?

Originally published Dec 17, 2021.
Written by David Levesley.

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